Early Involvement of African Americans in the Church

A January 30, 2015 article from the Mary Baker Eddy Library

Were African Americans involved in the early history of Christian Science?

The answer is yes. One noteworthy individual was Marietta Webb. Her first experience with Christian Science was in 1897, when she called a practitioner to help her young son, who was very ill. He was quickly and permanently healed, and she began attending services in The Mother Church.

Webb’s testimony, detailing this healing and other experiences, was published in August 1906 in The Christian Science Journal. 1 It appears today on page 612 of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, in the chapter “Fruitage.”

Webb joined The Mother Church in June 1899. She decided to become a Christian Science nurse in 1911, but soon after that she changed her mind and became a Christian Science practitioner instead. In June 1933 she invited local black Christian Scientists, who were not always welcome at branch churches, to hold Sunday services in her home; that informal group was soon organized as “Christian Science Society, Colored, of Los Angeles.”

Another early African American practitioner was Leonard Perry, Jr., of Washington, D.C. He joined The Mother Church in November 1900 and was first listed in the Journal in 1906. He served the Christian Science movement until his passing in 1949.

Lulu M. Knight of Chicago was the first African American teacher of Christian Science.

Some of the earliest branch churches of The Mother Church with large African American memberships included Eighth Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago; Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist, Washington, D.C.; and Twelfth Church of Christ, Scientist, New York City.

The practice of segregation was left up to each branch church. From 1922 to 1956, branches largely comprised of black people were listed in the Journal with the notation colored in parentheses. Apparently some branches were composed entirely of black people, while others had a mixture of races and segregated activities such as church services and Sunday School.

1 Marietta T. Webb, “Long before I heard of Christian Science…,” The Christian Science Journal, August 1906

Share via email